A mini-series on the future of energy, by Dave Wilkin and Tim Lutton

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By Dave Wilkin, P. Eng., M.Eng. and Tim Lutton, BSc., MBA

It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This aptly describes the current situation in world energy markets, as global energy demand grows continuously dragging green-house gas (GHG) emissions along, ever since the signing of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Recent re-elections in India and Australia of pro-growth governments over apparent climate-change focused alternatives continues a familiar pattern.

EU elections saw increased division with marked growing resistance to climate-driven initiatives, mostly in Eastern Europe, facing rising Green Parties who press EU members to commit to ‘zero CO2 emissions’ by 2050. In many developed countries leaders push poorly conceived plans and minimalist solutions with the allusion of reaching unrealistic emission-reduction targets. Absent are strategies and actions based on sound engineering, science and economics. But it gets worse in developing countries, where nationalist leaders place economic, political and security priorities above emission-reduction related actions.

A similar situation plays out in Canada now, with the approaching election. Energy systems are extremely complex and deeply rooted. This has motivated us to undertake a multi-part series, that will explore the global energy-ecosystem, digging below the surface to separate fact from fiction, and explore the fundamental drivers that will shape our energy future. We attempt to keep our articles understandable by avoiding overly technical analysis and by referencing our key information sources. We will also avoid discussions about climate-science, as it’s not our area of expertise.

Below is a quick preview of our series:

  • With an 85 per cent share of the energy market, carbon-based energy dominates today’s global energy supply.It’s important to understand the energy big picture, including energy mix, carbon energy reserves.
  • Global population and economic growth, led by developing countries (home to 80+ per cent of the world’s population) consistently overwhelms new energy technology and efficiency improvements, driving up carbon-based energy demand and with it, carbon emissions.
  • The Geopolitics of energy shapes country policies and strategic choices. Affordable carbon based energy forms an economic foundation, so running out of it or closing it down before economically viable/scalable alternatives are widely available must not happen.
  • Technology shapes the future; however, the new technologies are expensive, so replacing the existing system will be very costly, likely in the $100 trillion range globally. That, along with the limitations and constraints, ensures no single replacement technology for carbon energy exists. There is no silver- bullet solution.
  • Our worst-case scenario connects the four big factors driving the global energy-ecosystem: growth, reserves, new technology, and geopolitics, showing how it could all go badly without thoughtful investments now.
  • Finally, some recommendations that should be in Canada’s future energy roadmap, and a high level scoring of political parties against them.

Energy transition must happen well before the world’s affordable oil and gas reserves run short. Everyone should be able to agree on this. We are in the early stages of a global energy system transition. It’s enormously complex, carrying the highest possible stakes. It must not happen chaotically. Betting the farm on any single energy source or technology would be unwise, as many forms of energy will be required to meet the world’s growing energy demands.

Blessed with abundant energy resources and a modern democratic economy, Canada is ideally positioned to navigate and lead through the transition. Sadly, current political leadership has fallen short, and we continue to waste time and valuable resources. The time for sound strategy, realistic and achievable plans and actions has come; the time of siloed thinking, minimalist plans and political spin is over.

We hope you find our mini-series enlightening, informative and helpful. Watch for our next article, The Energy Big Picture, coming soon!

Dave Wilkin is a Professional Engineer who lives in Huntsville. He is an electrical engineer with a career spanning 35 years in IT, banking and consulting.
Tim Lutton worked in the natural gas and LNG industry for 32 years; with Imperial Oil in Canada, and ExxonMobil in the USA, Australia and Qatar and now lives in Huntsville.

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8 Comments

  1. I’m 79 years old and have been hearing about the gas and oil reserves running out since I was around 20 but we still have years left that being said I’m all for some new source of energy that is none polluting but as yet no one has found one. solar and wind I can’t see ever producing the amount of electric power we need and if we all go to electric cars no has any idea of just how much more hydro power we will need especially at peak times when everyone comes home from work and plugs there car in the surge will be overwhelming. As far as global warming lets just forget that it’s going to keep happening no matter what we do so lets just focus on pollution so we can breath the air again and drink the water. The one most dangerous thing we are doing right now is polluting our air and water with chemicals all kinds of sprays and artificial everything nothing is natural anymore from the scent we use on our bodies to the food we eat it is all laced with chemicals.

    • You are absolutely right that the transition to a sustainable global energy supply is an enormously complex challenge. Knowing both of you, I know your technical thoughts will be worth reading. But please don’t be unfair with our politicians. Their thoughts are simply a reflection of voters thoughts that are constantly evolving. After 15 years of stalled projects, we are finally learning that, as frustrating and time consuming as it is, the only way to make progress is to listen to and address the concerns of all constituents. After doing that, we now have the go ahead on the TransMountain pipeline, Enbridge Line 3 and just yesterday, a US court approved the route for Keystone XL that was first proposed in 2008. So we are making progress without taking a wrecking ball to the environment as some countries do. Time will tell whether we need more pipeline capacity, or not.

  2. Jim Logagianes on

    Great Article Gentleman it does explain how complicated getting all countries to cooperate has become. The economic situation all these countries are facing is the elephant in the closet that is being ignored. Name one country that is not having financial difficulties. There are unqualified politicians all over the world making a mess of things. As confidence in government declines,so to does any chance for unified front to address the problems facing the world. Socialism is failing all over the world and we are witnessing its destruction first hand.

  3. Susan Godfrey on

    I am eager to read this series Dave and Tim. Keeping in mind, particularly with you Tim, that the perspective presented could be skewed, even with an extensive bibliography and quoted sources. All research, regardless of accuracy, predominantly deals with the past and does not necessarily predict the future. I am in agreement, however, with your statements (if I read correctly) regarding stopping oil and gas development too soon before getting Green energy functional economically. Again, looking forward to your editorials.

  4. IMHO .. If you are not going to control population growth in ‘all’ countries .. it’s a waste of time! It’s people who create the so called global warming via ‘living’. If you live in a city you don’t need all the ‘stuff’ we in the country need and use .. ie boats , atv, lawn tractors, ice augers , skiddos, leaf blowers, trucks, cars etc etc. So unless we all move to a major city and give up all the things we like to do ..this is a waste of time! Unless you control china India, Africa, etc etc ..all the industrialized countries .. you are just part of the politically correct crowd speaking a narrative that will cripple the west and those like ie china etc .. will continue to grow and be # 1 in manufacturing , GDP growth, export etc etc. You can not have it both ways and control the west with burden and new taxes, increased cost on everything to eliminate carbon base tools, service and ‘life’!

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